For my second entry for Friday Music For You, I wanted to do a critical analysis of Sufjan Steven's AGE OF ADZ. The more I listen to this album, the more brilliant and heartbreaking it is. Now, as most of you know, I may be a bit biased on this front being that I got my own perspective on these issues, but I find there is no denying the story told within the notes, music and lyrics of this album.
I believe this album, whether this was his intention or not, is the struggle of Christianity and homosexuality. If anyone has followed Sufjan Stevens for anytime, you will find much of his music is a celebration of God and the Christian faith. From the very frank, "Seven Swans" album, to poetic yet frank lyrics of his love for Jesus Christ, in the song "To Be Alone With You."
AGE OF ADZ opens with the song "Futile Devices." It's a simple, acoustic guitar echoing through lyrics of a longing love for a mysterious figure. He sleeps on their couch, he watches them as they play guitar, it's a faraway admiration for some stranger. The last lines of the song remark, "I think of you as my brother, although that sounds dumb. And words are futile devices."
Unlike a song like "To Be Alone With You," which begins as a love song but is clearly about Jesus Christ, this love is not about God. There are specific references to place and time. The echo of his voice longs to tell them. And he makes it very clear to keep the gender ambiguous until the last line.
The following track, "Too Much." is disjointed. As if saying such blasphemy of love between men, is wrong. Electronic bleeps and bloops permeate, tossing us from the gentle sways of the first song. The opening lyrics, "if I was a different man, if I had blood in my eyes. I could of read of your heart." And the chorus calls out that, "there's too much riding on that."
The electronic noise fights with the melody, without ever being obnoxious it is cacophony of battling noises. As if there were something extra.
Continuing through to the title track, "Age of Adz." If you don't know, an adz is a tool to cut and shape wood, reshaping something once thought to be rigid and formed. After a big, bold chorus filled chant of what dies rots and what lives is eternal he ends the song more simple with this:
"Now, I have known you for just a little while. I feel I must be wearing my welcome. I must be moving on. For my intentions were good intentions, I could of loved you, I could of changed you. I wouldn't be so, I wouldn't feel so concerned by selfish thoughts. I'm sorry if I seem self-effacing, consumed by selfish thoughts. It's only because I love you deeply, it's all the love I've got."
"I Walked," begins with, "lover, will you look at me now?" It arrives like an apology, for his constant freak out. Constant walking away. The artist THE AGE OF ADZ is based on, was a self-proclaimed "prophet" Royal Robertson who used to have these rants against those he loved. He was consumed by his thoughts and he forced him to turn against the ones he loved.
After a slow turn in "Now That I'm Older," Sufjan returns to his religious roots and it feels almost sarcastic, angry. "Get Real, Get Right," feels like a reminder to himself to do what is right. These thoughts are wrong. These thoughts aren't what he's been raised to believe. Lyrics demand it. "You know you really got to... get real, get right with the Lord."
"Bad Communication" beeps afterwards. I imagine his conversation with God. It's ethereal and sci-fi. There is anger in it. "Someway, you will want it your way."
Mount Vesuvius destroyed Pompeii. Calling back the earlier song, "Age of Adz," Sufjan almost speaks the lyrics that he'd "rather be burned then be living in death." There seems to be a distancing of God's will versus his own. Some of the strongest arguments against God is the tragedy of disaster. Fire and brimstone comes to mind here. "Why does it have to be so hard? Follow me now or follow me down."
"All for Myself" begins the final act. In this, he begins to claim his own life. His own body. His own needs. His soul. There is plea and sadness as he yells out, choir and all.
"I'm not fucking around." Sufjan Stevens, who has been such a grand champion for his religious beliefs seems to struggle most here. He's never cursed in his songs before (as far as I can remember) and if he has, it has never been this angry or bluntly... repeating in almost Radiohead "Sit Down, Stand Up" fashion.
In the best use of lyric and I think really seals the deal for me in this struggle between Christian belief and homosexual, he states, "Well I Want To Be Well I Want To Be..." And it's chanted over and over and over again until you're not sure if he's saying, "well, I want to be" or "I want to be well" (as the song title suggests).
The final track, standing at 25 minutes is just amazing. It's like a quick review of the album so far. Beginning with a Pinback-eque piano vibe. "Woman, tell me what you want and I'll calm down. Without bleeding out with a broken heart." It goes on to seem as if he were giving up on his attractions. The line, "don't be distracted" sung by a woman's voice. This line repeats over and over again. It begins to fade out, echoing, a ping of a piano, until --
"Stupid man, in the window."
The organic instrumentation turns electronic. His voice auto-tuned. Disguised. The music pounds. A heart beat. He wants this. He beacons for him. Calling him to dance. And the music turns triumphant. A celebration of electronic sounds. Where the first 10 minutes feel like giving up, the second grows in his hope and triumph. And the music transforms into a modern brilliant dance song. Rough and incredible.
He loses himself in this. The lyrics "it's a long life, better hit yourself, get's your face together better roll along. Only one last chance. Could it get much better? Do you want to dance. It's a good life." Repeats... and then the album's anthem:
"Boy, we can do much more together. It's not so impossible!"
Things feel amazing - he has finally found his own happiness.
And then, it shifts.
At first, the voice turns deep. It slows slightly down. As if - regret has fallen in. The music softens, the electronics no longer feel in tune with the rest of the song... strings take over and everything falls into a sustained single note.
Guitar takes over. Like the first song. The earlier music, the earlier song forgotten. And the final lyrics.
"I never meant to cause you pain. My burden is the weight of a feather. I never meant to lead you on. I only meant to please me, however, and then you tell me, 'boy we can much more... together.' I nothing but a selfish boy... And did you think I'd stay the night? And did you think I'd love you forever? And then you tell me 'boy we can much more... together.'
"I got to tell you, girl, I want nothing less than pleasure. I got to tell you boy, we made such a mess, together."Heartbreaking.
Buy this album today.